Hey Look! I'm not dead! Not much to say other than life gets in the way…But here is the next chapter and I hope you enjoy. As always, I own nothing…otherwise JimxAriel would be totally canon.

Chapter 8

His blood still had not cooled even after all the other men had staggered back up to the castle, losing themselves in surface level conversation and playful grousing about what the day's work would bring, during their trek.

Their jovial laughter did nothing to slow the pounding of his heart and his pulse thundering in his ears like a war drum.

It had been all he could do to keep his mouth shut, to restrain himself from lunging at Prince Eric right there in front of all those assembled. To not tackle the prince to the ground and beat him until his fists were raw and bloody. He wanted to exact his vengeance with fury and blood. He wanted the human to cower before the point of his trident.

Ariel would never be his.

Period.

"A word, your highness?" Silver's mocking derogatory tone earned him a sharp glare from the former merman.

Instead of the verbal tongue lashing he had been expecting, the reluctant henchman merely sighed and uttered a humorless chuckle.

"Didn't your pap ever teach you how to pick your battles?"

For a brief second, Jim believed his fury would overtake him, but it was the honest, earnest non=threatening nature of the captain's tone that eased the prince's defenses like he truly wanted to know the answer. A long silence passed between them and when Silver had nearly decided that the boy would never answer, he turned to leave it was then the smooth timbre of Jim's voice broke the stillness.

"He died before he ever got the chance to," a scowl, clenched jaw and haunted blue eyes followed immediately after, "Ursula certainly made sure of that."

Silver nodded, seeming to ponder this new information. The former captain walked forward and placed one large hand on Jim's shoulder, ignoring the quiet defiance the young man exuded in waves.

"Tis true lad, the sea witch has stolen much from ya', but like it or not, you're playing a different sort of game now. One where there's no winnin' and losin' like that sorry lot back there, just surviving and not. I won't let little lass be the one to pay for our mistakes. We have to be better'n that for her."

The heat drained from Jim's eyes like water. The prince sighed heavily before nodding in agreement and ran his fingers through chestnut locks in frustration. Silver was right. He had screwed up and let his pride get the better of him.

"Alright," Jim answered quietly. A small smile stretched on Silver's lips and something like approval shone in his deep brown eyes. Silver clapped the seventeen-year-old prince on the shoulder once before starting his own steady trek back to the castle.

"You're not a bad fighter, you know." Silver's compliment was casual but caught Jim by complete surprise, nonetheless. The teen made a few quick strides and was at Silver's side once more. The older man gave a low chuckle.

"You could never hope to best me…but you're pretty good, lad."

Jim simply smirked, shaking his head in amusement.

It was not until they passed the doorway leading down to the servant's quarters that the former merman remembered his prize from this morning's near fiasco. Excitement compounded quickly like a spring ready to burst forth. He was going to get to spend the whole day with Ariel. Unquestioned.

Suddenly, the journey through the castle could not pass quickly enough and the sea prince realized that his strides had quickened. If Silver noticed anything, he didn't bother commenting.

On the far side of the great hall, two grandiose wooden doors signaled the entrance of the castle. With a tip of the head from Silver, one of the royal guards came forward and opened the heavy door made of majestic oak. No one questioned the comings and goings of John Silver or the authority he quietly wielded.

Bright sunlight poured through to greet them, and Jim shielded his blue eyes from the onslaught. After a few moments, his eyesight adjusted, and Jim took in the scene before him. The brunette found himself at the true entrance of the palace, and what lay before him was a courtyard, intended for the triaging of guests/ and servants in and out of the castle.

There at the bottom of a stone staircase was Ariel. Clothed in a simple sky hued dress with a midnight blue corset, the sea prince found his petite redhead enchanting. Everything about her was simplistic yet elegant from the bow she wore in her hair to the slippers on her feet.

Even with yards of distance separating them, Jim was easily able to meet her gaze. A soft smile graced her lips and even from where he was standing, was that pink dusting her cheeks? Male pride swelled within him, pleased at her reaction. Without a second thought, Jim dashed forward, not caring if he appeared too eager. Let her see how he felt, the emotion that she stirred within him.

It wasn't until Jim was mere steps away when he found himself at a loss. Ariel was in some kind of contraption and…what were those creatures? Judging by her relaxed posture, it was easy to conclude that she wasn't in any immediate danger.

A feminine brow quirked in pleased amusement at Jim's hesitation at the sight of the carriage and horses. She leaned forward whispering,

"They're called horses. They pull human carriages."

Ariel watched comprehension dawn in Jim's gaze and then was surprised herself when without warning, he climbed up into the carriage to sit next to her not giving a thought to the servants that stopped what they were doing and looked on in wonder.

A giggle escaped her lips and she shook her head in bemusement.

"Not that I'm not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?"

Did he realize the speeding effect he had on her heart when he was sitting mere inches from her? She could practically feel the heat radiating from him in waves, and what was this urge to do something about that…

"Looks like I get the privilege of accompanying you today," Jim's eyes were bright, and his smile was warm. It was very reminiscent of when they were children. Playful banter seemed to draw them together like magnets. Mock suspicion colored her features.

"Oh, and how did you manage that? Silver isn't one for shirking responsibilities."

A cocky smirk stretched on Jim's lips, enjoying the interchange just as much as she was.

"Silver threw a sparring contest amongst the male servants this morning. The winner got to accompany you today." No need to worry her about his interactions with Eric.

"And what, now I'm some prize to be won?"

Her huff and question were teasing but a small part of her did wonder had James Hawkins succumbed to the same vain disease that Eric was so obviously blinded by?

True to form, the merprince was able to decipher the true meaning to her question, and so he answered with calm sincerity, the intensity of his cerulean gaze freezing her in place.

"Certainly not. But you are worth fighting for."

Their gazes locked, the breeze blowing gently between them, and Ariel found herself speechless. He had answered her double layered question and in turn answered it with a multidimensional response of his own. One that thrilled her and gave her hope.

Ariel watched in rapt attention as something caught Jim's attention, drawing his gaze away from hers briefly. And then he was eyeing the reigns that lay between them. Silver's nearing voice drew the missing princess's attention.

"You two ready to go for a nice jaunt into town?"

The faux servant boy completely disregarded the would-be chaperone. A mischievous glint had ignited in the teen's eyes, and a shiver of anticipation ran down Ariel's spine.

"Do you trust me?" Jim Hawkin's inquiry was low and urgent.

Ariel shook her head in confusion. "Yes…"

That was all the merman needed before grabbing the reigns and beating them, spurring the horses to rear back in alarm before dashing forward in a dead sprint, the carriage hazing Silver in a cloud of dust.

Swatting away the settling dust, the burly pirate could only watch as the royal carriage sped through the open gates toward the town a mile or so off in the distance. Silver had half a mind to go after them and teach the fish boy a lesson he wouldn't forget, but then, the looks of exhilarated joy on both their faces struck a soft spot in the former pirate captain.

A castle guard rushed to Silver's side; alarm clear in his tone. "Sir! Should we go after them?"

Silver chuckled, shaking his head. "No lad. Let em' have their fun. She deserves a little freedom."

The guard still appeared uneasy but didn't question the matter further. If Silver approved, then who was he to disagree? Besides, the queen's henchman seemed to be in a generous mood and only a fool would disrupt that. No one questioned as the cook leisurely strolled past the palace gates and towards the town itself, an old bar tune a whistle on his lips…

The feeling of the cool wind whipping against his face and through his hair as the royal carriage raced away from the castle was beyond exhilarating. A shout of victory and freedom realized rang free from Jim's lungs.

If Ariel didn't know better, Jim Hawkins looked like a natural, gripping the reigns in his hands, his gaze trained expertly on the approaching town before them. It made her smile seeing this part of him again, the fearless daredevil. He was the boy who made her feel like a normal girl, not a princess, or a plaything or a prisoner. She was just a regular girl and he was a boy, and together they were free to be themselves.

Jim glanced back at the castle, and satisfied no one was following them, allowed the adrenaline ridden steeds to slow to a relaxed trot.

"Did you see his face? It was priceless!" Jim exclaimed, exhilaration surrounding him like an aura.

Ariel giggled shaking her head.

"Silver's not so bad you know, once you get to know him."

The merprince rolled his eyes in a show of obvious skepticism. "Yeah, somehow I doubt that."

Ariel was insistent. "No, you don't understand. Silver really is a good man. He's just bound by Ursula's curse as well."

Now this was intriguing.

"And what is Silver's curse exactly?"

Ariel gazed out over green hilly countryside, but it was clear she was reliving memories past.

"Silver, like all men who venture too near to Ursula, became bewitched and is compelled to obey any and all commands the sea witch gives. But Silver's true curse is fairly obvious: preventing my escape. Through the sea witch's magic, he is forced to find me wherever I go, if the distance between us is too great, it causes him increasing measures of pain."

A wistful smile grazed her lips.

"When I was younger, I tried escaping, so many times…but no matter how fast I ran, or however clever the hiding place, he would always find me and bring me back to the castle. It wasn't long before I realized that he was just as trapped as I was. It sounds silly but after a few years both of us sort of gave up and Silver he…he became my closest friend…that is…" she said turning to face her handsome companion, "Until you came along."

An amiable silence encased them and for a time, no words were needed, just the peaceful clip clopping of he horses hooves against the dusty path.

"So, if we stay in or close to town, we should be golden right?"

Ariel nodded, enthusiastic to hear the plans she knew Jim was cultivating.

"I'm curious. How did you manage a free day? I would think a bride would be indispensable so close to the wedding day. Not that you'll be actually getting married." Jim added the last sentence as a reassurance to them both.

A wry smile tainted the genuine one that was previously in its place.

"Oh, I would just be in the way. I'm sure you've already seen that my opinion doesn't hold a lot of weight around here."

The merprince scowled darkly, the memory of Eric's coerced proposal still fresh in his mind. A growl escaped Jim' Hawkins lips.

"Ariel, it's your wedding. No one's opinion matters more than yours."

Once again, the mermaid princess smile shifted once more to a kind, appreciative version.

"But it's just as you said. I am not getting married, so there's nothing to worry about, right?" Her comforting hand settled gently over his and once more their gazes locked, a silent understanding passing between them.

Words unnecessary, Jim grinned crookedly and nodded once in agreement.

The town adjacent to the seaside castle was small but bustling, vibrant and filled with life. Crossing a small, stone bridge into the center of the town, Jim Hawkins was instantly captivated by the wonders of human society.

The adventurous glint full of anticipation had returned to the teenage boy's eyes.

"So princess, where to first?"

What followed was a day filled with new discoveries and exploration. The human world was so different then anything the merprince had experienced, and it brought joy to Ariel to witness all his reactions: the way his eyes widened at the sight of chickens, the smell of baked goods and the interactions of the townspeople around them.

Of course, some moments stood out more than others. A child's puppet show had a certainly more unexpected ending when Jim curiously grabbed at one of the hand puppets, revealing a bare and fairly stunned human hand. Through uncontrollable giggles, Ariel had tugged the perplexed merman away.

And then there had been the dancing.

Music flowed freely and continuously in Eric's kingdom. Amorous couples could often be found waltzing or indulging in some semblance of dance. For years, Ariel had watched envious of these pairings, wishing that she could share in the intimacy that this particular activity would bring. And now as she waltzed and swayed in the security of Jim's strong arms, she was oblivious to everything and everyone else around her.

He smelled of the sea, of her true home and it was easy to get lost in the feeling. That is until a familiar sight jerked her world into focus. John Silver was leaning against the carriage she and Jim had traveled into town in and was currently chatting up the local florist. It was clear he was searching for them and was banking on the fact that they would return to the carriage sooner or later, or at the very least, come into his line of sight so that he could track them on foot.

Ariel knew better than anyone how deceptively fast Silver could be on foot. Ariel smirked.

Sorry Silver, I'm not ready for this day to be over just yet…

Without a word of warning, the redhead twisted out of Jim's arms and began tugging a bewildered Jim in the opposite direction of the crafty pirate.

"Ariel what…?"

"Come on. Let's go!"

The merprince chanced quick glances around him, trying to guess at what had sparked Ariel's sudden desire for flight.

It was on the second attempt that he spotted Silver. Deducing Ariel's train of thought was simple after that. A pleased grin made itself evident at the thought. Ariel wanted to spend time alone with him as well. Warmth sprang up in his chest and Jim pumped his legs harder and faster increasing his speed. Clasping her hand in his, a crooked smirk earned him a pretty speechless blush.

Not far from the city gates, a small rowboat drifted in a quiet lagoon, the late afternoon sun casting a golden glow, the cicadas beginning their song. Jim rowed lazily, while Ariel sat across from him, gazing longingly at the willow trees surrounding them. The quiet serenity of the lagoon was certainly peaceful and lulled the couple into a relaxed state.

"I'll say this, the surface world is certainly something."

Ariel smiled wistfully at the begrudged compliment.

"You're right. It's nothing like home…" her soft voice trailed off indicating she wasn't sure if that was still the case.

Pushing through the pangs of regret, a genuine smile graced his lips and warmth saturated bright cerulean eyes.

"You're right and you'll know that for certain soon enough." The merprince spoke with such conviction that Ariel could have no doubts otherwise.

"What's it…home," Ariel corrected, "like now?"

The carefree smirk of a teenage boy returned once more. Carefully, to not tip the small rowboat over, Jim settled himself down onto the floor of the boat leaning against its worn side, an arm draped across his knee.

"Hmmm…let me see…Not too much has changed really. The summer games are about to begin, so you remember what craziness that is…" The brunette was pleased with the bright eager smile he earned from his companion.

"Oh, there is one change, your sister Attina is currently being groomed by your father to take over as queen."

"Really? Wow." Ariel seemed to ponder this new revelation for a while.

"Attina will be a great queen. She'll bring a lot of good change to the kingdom."

Jim nodded in agreement. "Though, I don't think she'll be taking over just yet. I think Triton's waiting for grandchildren before he'll be willing to turn over the reins."

Ariel chuckled in response. Her father would pull something like that.

"Oh, speaking of, guess who recently got engaged."

"I have no idea," Ariel shook her head puzzled. "Who?"

Jim leaned forward for dramatic effect, "Arista and Thor…"

Ariel's eyes widened in surprise and disbelief. "What? No way!"

For as long as Ariel could remember, it was common knowledge that prince Thor harbored the largest crush for Ariel's older sister Arista. Even as young children, Thor would attempt countless silly feats in order to impress the pretty blonde mermaid. It was also common knowledge that every single one of these attempts failed miserably.

Ariel tried not to let the melancholy she felt seep into her tone as she carefully moved to sit in the bottom of the boat next to Jim.

"Something big must have happened for her to change her mind like that."

The merprince gave a snort and rolled his eyes bemusedly. "I don't know…personally I think he just finally wore her down. But I will say this, they do seem very happy together."

Ariel nodded absently trying to picture the Thor she just encountered and imagined a version of her sister how she would look a few years older, together and happy as a couple. It was weird but she supposed it made her happy. Thor had been one of her closest friends and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that Thor would treat her sister right. He practically worshipped the waters she swam in.

Another happy thought was the prospect that their kingdoms would be even more united with the marriage of two of its royals.

"Yeah, you should have seen it, the day he proposed countless court ladies and their daughters wept in devastation," malicious glee saturated Jim's tone. "All their plotting, and conniving trumped by true love."

The merprince's comment had been lighthearted. Clearly, he was reminiscing on a pleasant memory. However, for Ariel, the mental movie had shifted into something of a different version, It wasn't Thor the court ladies were fighting over…

Ariel's gaze slid to her companion. The reality of the situation set her heart and stomach sinking in despair. Jim's joy in those women's failures rang with personal experience…

"And what about you?"

The words had slipped past her lips. Unconsciously, while part of her wished to take them back, another equal portion yearned to know the answer to her question.

The merman appeared perplexed, oblivious to the petite redhead's inner turmoil, or the pounding of her heart.

"What about me?"

It was now or never. Ariel exhaled slowly trying to catch her breath.

"Have you foiled the ladies of the court by finding…someone?"

The emphasis on someone made it clear what type of relationship which she meant.

Ariel watched a stunned Jim Hawkins process the words she had just spoken. Here it was…the declaration. And she didn't know if she could handle the answer, no matter what it was. When a few seconds that felt like millennia passed on in silence, Ariel turned away seriously contemplating jumping out of the rowboat if only to escape the conversation.

A large, calloused hand gently turned her cheek back before cupping it as if she was made from the most delicate porcelain.

His voice was rough with emotion despite the amused expression he tried to portray.

"The ladies of court gave up on me a long time ago."

Jim ran a hand through chestnut locks strands, and it was clear from his tensed body language that he was uncomfortable with what he was going to share next.

"See I have this reputation back home…"

Ariel remained frozen, her heart hammering in her chest, baited with every word he spoke.

"You see people think I'm crazy because…I fell in love when I was thirteen and the only girl that I have ever wanted disappeared four years ago. And I've never given up looking for her."

Ariel stopped breathing, and her eyes widened. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. It was her. After all this time…he…he still felt this way?

Jim continued, his voice shaking slightly, his vulnerability nearly palpable between them.

"But here's the thing…I've just found my dream girl, and I want to tell everyone that I won't have anyone else by my side, but I don't know what she's feeling," The intensity of his ocean blue gaze as he searched hers gave way to exactly one result.

Unable and unwilling to look away, cheeks flaring pretty pink, Ariel nodded a soft smile stretching across her lips as she stroked his cheek.

Jim's grin erupted and he was beaming like the sun.

"Yes? Is that a, yes?"

Ariel nodded vigorously unable to deny him or her heart anything in this moment.

"Yes, Jim Hawkins, there is nothing more that I want then to be with you. If you're willing to take things slowly then…then yes, it would make me so happy to be with you."

Her declaration was soft, hardly above a whisper but the former merman felt his heart soar.

Lost in newfound bliss, Jim slowly closed the remaining gap between them, and was delighted by the lack of obstacles as Ariel's lips finally met his…

Til Next time! Please Review!